Supporting the Future Generation of Cancer Providers: The ASCO Cancer Interest Group Initiative

Jul 27, 2015

By Daniel G. Stover, MD
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

In 2011, ASCO established a membership category for students and residents. Over the past four years, more than 2,000 undergraduate, graduate, and medical students and residents have joined the largest clinical oncology organization in the world. As these future medical, surgical, radiation, and pediatric oncologists and researchers join the ASCO membership ranks, there is a critical need to assist, encourage, and bring together this next generation of cancer care providers. This summer, ASCO’s Medical Student Taskforce will embark on an ambitious effort to establish and support a nationwide network of ASCO-Sponsored Cancer Interest Groups (CIGs) funded by the Conquer Cancer Foundation Mission Endowment. This endeavor requires both the engagement of students and residents and the support of fellows and faculty at each participating institution to ensure its success.

The Need to Support Future Cancer Providers

Two reports over the past decade reveal the critical challenges that oncology will face in terms of providers. As the population ages, the number of newly diagnosed cancers in the United States is projected to increase over 40% by 2025.1 This remarkable increase will be associated with a smaller growth in the number of medical oncologists and other oncologyrelated specialists, leaving a shortfall of providers.1,2 At the same time, it is clear that oncology remains desirable as a profession. Survey results from the Internal Medicine In-Training Exam demonstrated that the most commonly cited reasons for choosing Hematology- Oncology include long-term relationships with patients, caring for critically ill patients, and narrow practice area.3 In addition, supporting talented students who show an interest in cancer research is important to ensure that we continue to have the best and brightest making cancer discoveries in the future.

At the same time, there is a strong desire by medical students and residents to connect with others interested in oncology and current oncology providers. Most medical schools foster interest groups that focus on a variety of topics, such as medical specialties. Oncology interest groups exist at only a minority of medical schools, based on a small recent survey. Among those surveyed that do not have an existing oncology interest group, 90% indicated a desire to participate if one were established locally. This confluence of a need to support and encourage participation with ASCO with an unmet desire by students and residents to connect with the field of oncology led to this ambitious effort: ASCO-Sponsored Cancer Interest Groups.

A Call to Medical Students: Become Cancer Interest Group Leaders

Joining ASCO offers many benefits for students considering any career in oncology—medical, surgical, radiation, pediatric, gynecologic, pathology, radiology, research, or other paths. Membership is free and offers access to many resources from ASCO’s educational website, ASCO University®, as well as discounts on a variety of journals and other tools. Becoming an ASCO member facilitates attendance at the ASCO Annual Meeting and the everincreasing slate of topical meetings. Perhaps more importantly, engaging with ASCO can help students find their path in oncology and identify local mentors who can support career success.

The CIG initiative offers a unique way for medical students to become leaders today. If your medical school already has a Cancer Interest Group, you are ahead of the curve! Our goal is to connect CIGs from around the country, facilitate the outstanding work that already goes on at many medical schools, and provide support in maintaining or growing your CIG. Over the coming months, ASCO will be developing a way to register your CIG, apply for funding support, and potentially become one of the medical student leaders who help us define the future of this initiative.

If your medical school does not have a CIG, we encourage you to form a group, even if it is informal to start. ASCO will be developing materials to provide guidance on identifying local oncologists as potential faculty leaders, ideas for potential meeting topics, and also provide support as your CIG gets off the ground.

A Call to Fellows and Young Faculty: Become ASCO Medical School Ambassadors

The success of the CIG initiative also depends on the support and guidance of fellows and young faculty. Many studies have demonstrated, and I can personally attest, that mentorship by a clinician in a specific specialty can have a substantial impact on specialty and subspecialty choice. Outside of mentorship, CIGs provide a local community for those interested in a career in oncology. Developing such a community can provide relevant career guidance and perspective. Medical students could meet residents going through the application process; residents could meet fellows. Students could discover whether their interests and skills fit better with radiation oncology or surgical oncology, medical oncology or pathology.

With that in mind, we encourage fellows and young faculty to consider joining the CIG initiative as a Medical School Ambassador. In this role, individuals would serve as faculty/fellow leaders of the local CIG, be a liaison to set up mentorship opportunities, and provide feedback to ASCO on successes, needs, and ways to improve the program.

There are benefits for those fellows and young faculty who get involved. This will be a leadership opportunity— a new mechanism through which young faculty can engage with ASCO beyond committees or individual meetings. As this program develops, ASCO will also be looking to Medical School Ambassadors for guidance and feedback. We are in the process of developing specific recognition and support for Medical School Ambassadors to honor their efforts. The field of medical education is burgeoning, and establishing a niche as a clinician-educator starts with teaching and mentorship. Perhaps most importantly, helping the future generation of oncology providers realize the satisfaction we receive from our careers in oncology is invaluable.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Based on the remarkable growth of the student/resident membership category—inducting 2,000 members in less than four years—we are excited to establish the CIG initiative. We will depend on medical students’ energy, leadership, and ideas as we look to support existing or aid in the formation of new CIGs at any medical school. We will also depend on fellows and young faculty to support their local interest group, provide guidance, and give ASCO feedback on how to continue to improve the program. At ASCO, we will be establishing a national network of CIGs, developing resources for individual groups, and providing support as interest groups become established.

The ASCO Medical Student Taskforce is excited to support our future generation of oncology providers and we look forward to working with all of you!

For more information about ASCO’s CIG program, please email


  1. American Society of Clinical Oncology. J Oncol Pract. 2015;11:79-113.
  2. Hortobagyi GN, American Society of Clinical Oncology. J Clin Oncol. 2007;25:1468-9.
  3. Garibaldi RA, Popkave C, Bylsma W. Acad Med. 2005;80:507-12.
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